James' story

A masked James wearing a navy tee and yellow lanyard.

Navy veteran James Duffy, 60, lives in Yorktown, Virginia and works in the shipping and receiving department at a large manufacturing company. Married for 38 years to his wife Pamela, James has three children and enjoys biking and restoring and selling cars in his spare time.

One August day, James completed an 18-mile bike ride and began experiencing a loss of appetite, nausea and stomach pain.  Then he lost feeling in his legs, eventually unable to walk. James was transported to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital for assessment where his symptoms got worse.  He was transferred to VCU Medical Center in Richmond and diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body's immune system attacks the nerves.

After 10 days in the hospital, James was stable enough to begin his rehabilitation journey at Riverside Rehabilitation Hospital. He chose Riverside after it was recommended by several people and he read a number of positive reviews on social media.

James’ Guillain-Barré had left him with numbness in his hands and feet as well as difficulties with balance that made him unable to walk on his own. He also was struggling with dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.

James’ physician-led team of nurses and physical, occupational and speech therapists developed a plan to help him reach his goal of walking out of the hospital on his own. 
He arrived at Riverside Rehabilitation Hospital willing to work hard to get back to his family, job and hobby of working on cars.

In physical and occupational therapy, James worked with his therapists on a variety of exercises to build strength, balance and endurance. His therapists made sessions interactive and fun, including activities such as walking along a foam balance beam, completing hurdles, using a shopping cart and even whipping up an imaginary meal in the therapy gym’s simulated kitchen. Speech therapists also worked with James on swallowing exercises to help him get back to eating a regular diet.

James shared that his biggest turning point came when he was able to go outside and walk using a walker, quickly progressing to walking without the walker with minimal supervision from a therapist. He credits his family for their huge role in encouraging and pushing him to have a “can do” attitude.

After one week at Riverside Rehabilitation Hospital, James’ was ready to head home, having made great strides in his recovery. He was able to reach his goal of walking out of the hospital independently without any assistance and could not wait to get back into his garage to work on cars that weekend.

James offers this advice to others who are facing rehabilitation: “Never give up, stay motivated and believe in yourself.”